It was dumb luck that I ended up going to the jungle. One morning when I was eating breakfast at the Magic Bean, an American-owned restaurant in the touristy La Mariscal area of Quito, I met a Canadian missionary named Colin. I told him about my aunt and her desire to see a shaman. It turns out he had been making frequent trips to the jungle to teach isolated communities how to collect and extract clean drinking water. He knew of a shaman named Don Alfonso who had gained a reputation for curing people with cancer, and he volunteered to take my aunt and me to see him.
By the weekend Colin had arranged the trip and we loaded up in his 4-wheel-drive jeep to begin our descent into the jungle where Don Alfonso awaited my aunt’s arrival. My uncle Fernando was supposed to join us, but on the morning of our departure, he complained of severe stomach pain and backed out on us. At least he pitched in by stocking up my backpack with zip-lock bags, which would prove to be vitally important, vitamin-B pills to deter mosquitoes, and mefloquine tablets to prevent malaria in case the mosquitoes bit anyway (and to possibly induce some pretty wicked hallucinations). According to Colin our trip would take 8-14 hours depending on the road conditions and the weather.
Arrival times in Ecuador are always tough to estimate, hence the phrase directed at travelers: todo es posible, nada es seguro. Anything is possible, nothing is certain. Two hours into our trip I realized why.
A tree had fallen over the mountain road preventing us—and the bus in front of us—from continuing. The bus driver and his attendant were outside inspecting the tree. Out of boredom, several of the passengers were kicking mud off the road’s edge over the cliff. We approached the driver, carelessly leaving behind my aunt who was asleep in the back seat of the jeep. “What are we going to do about this?” Colin asked the mustached man with a cigarette tucked behind each ear.
“We wait,” said the driver giving the tree a gentle kick, “until the tree moves.”
“The tree won’t move on its own,” I said.
The driver lit a cigarette and slumped onto the bumper of the bus. “No. It won’t.”
“Can we try to move it?” I asked.
“The men have already tried. It is impossible.”
“Do you have a rope?” Colin asked. Since his Spanish was inadequate to describe what he intended, he demonstrated through gestures how we could tie one end of the rope to the tree and the other to the bus and pull the tree out of the way.
The driver shrugged his shoulders in disinterest. He liked his plan better: if we wait long enough, eventually the tree will not be there. He and his attendant seemed to have the patience to see the plan to its end.
Now, whether it was part of their “master plan” or more likely a stroke of luck, a logging truck approached from the opposite direction and stopped on the other side of the tree. The young loggers sitting in the back jumped down and assessed the situation. They rolled up their sleeves and slipped on their work gloves. I looked on incredulously as the stocky men took their positions behind the tree and gave it a brave and spirited push. It didn’t move. They stepped back and the leader of the group shouted out orders and redirected some of the men. They gave it another push with no success. The leader called out angrily to the lazy passengers of the bus to help them out. With forty sets of hands we were unable to even roll the tree, and the leader kicked a juicy pile of mud into the air.
“Do you have a rope?” Colin asked.
One of the men enthusiastically ran back to the logging truck, and we were relieved when he emerged with a long rope. He and his boss tied it securely around the highest point of the tree. But they did not tie the other end to the truck. They did not tie the other end to the bus. Each of the men grabbed a section of the rope and with the rope resting over their shoulders, they gave it a determined tug. When that didn’t work, without a word being spoken, they faced the tree, squatted, and tried to plod their way backwards until their strength gave out they fell on their butts. This was way too fucking hilarious for me to be angry or frustrated, but I had to remind myself I had a sick aunt in the back seat of our jeep. I returned to find her in a deep sleep. I dozed off myself.
About an hour later I heard a rumble and looked out to the road. I ran toward the tree. It began to roll. It was attached to the truck by the rope. Todo es posible—given enough time.